Share story

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — A woman once thought to have lived as a feral child in the Cambodian jungles has been claimed by a second family as their long-lost daughter.

The woman was caught sneaking from the jungle into a village to steal food in 2007, then was taken in by a family in Rattanakiri province who named her Rochom P’ngieng and tried with minimal success to teach her everyday things.

Rochom Khamphy, who previously had been considered her Cambodian brother, said by telephone Thursday that his family agreed in principle to turn over the woman to a Vietnamese man after he presented proof that she is his mentally disabled daughter Tak, who had disappeared in 2006.

After she was caught in 2007, Cambodian villager Sal Lou claimed she was his daughter, who had gone missing in 1988 at the age of 8 while tending water buffalo.

Her unexplained disappearance and unusual behavior led to her being described as the “jungle woman.” Often eschewing clothes, preferring not to sleep in the family house, and several times seeking to return to the jungle, she remained a mystery despite extensive psychiatric investigation.

At the same time, her Cambodian family failed to provide DNA to prove kinship. Bodily scars suggested she had been shackled before being caught.

The Vietnamese man who turned up last month to claim her, 70-year-old Pel, presented documents supporting his claim that she was his daughter.

Rochom Khamphy said his family was convinced. Along with their Vietnamese visitor, they held a ceremony and sacrificed a pig to the land spirits to guide her home safely. She is expected to go to Vietnam this coming weekend.

The head of O’Yadav district, Ma Vicheth, said that after the two families agreed, he issued an endorsement letter allowing the woman to be repatriated.

He explained that normally such action would require court approval, but because both families were from the Jarai hilltribe minority, they were allowed to abide by their own beliefs on the matter.